How do bees make honey? And other bee facts

Buff-tailed bumblebee on willow
Look out for busy bees visiting flowers (Photo: northeastwildlife.co.uk)

Over the last month or so, bees have started emerging from their winter hibernation. Here, we answer some frequently asked questions about these fascinating creatures.

How do bees make honey?

Honey bee on flower
Sugary nectar - key for making honey (Photo: northeastwildlife.co.uk)

Honeybees have long tongues, and use them to suck nectar from flowers. They keep the nectar in a special stomach – called a honey stomach – and when it’s full, they fly back to the hive.

There, they meet other bees and the nectar is swapped between each bee’s mouth until it’s less runny. This happens because special enzymes in the bees’ mouths break down the sugars in the nectar, making it thicker.

But it’s not quite ready yet! There’s one more stage for the nectar to go through before it becomes honey: evaporation. Nectar is still a bit runny when it goes into wax honeycombs, so bees help to speed up the evaporation process by fanning it with their wings.

Do bees have knees?

Sort of. They actually have six sections to their legs, each connected by a joint, and though they don’t have anything like a knee cap, you could say bees have five knees on each leg.

No one really knows why we say something that’s really great is ‘the bee’s knees’. The saying was first used in America in the 1900s and probably caught on because it rhymes.

Do bees sleep?

Honeybees may be busy, but they do like a doze too! They sleep between five and eight hours a day. Scientists have found that sleep helps bees learn and remember things, just like it does for us.

Do bees hibernate?

The bees in a bumblebee colony die off when winter approaches and only the queen bee survives. She usually burrows into a bank of soil to hibernate and then comes out in the spring to start a new colony.

Honeybees snuggle up together in their hive to keep warm, while solitary bees hibernate in lots of different places. Sometimes they hibernate in hollow plant stems so if you cut these down, you should leave them in a corner of the garden until spring rather than burning them or throwing them away.

How many types of bee are there in the UK?

Loads! There are around 250 species of UK bees, but they come under three main types: bumblebees, honeybees and solitary bees (who live on their own).

How do bees buzz?

Bees flap their wings so fast that it creates vibrations in the air, which we hear as buzzing. If they feel threatened, they flap their wings more so the buzzing gets louder.

Bee facts

Did you know…

  • Bumblebees and honeybees have different jobs in their hives – some are foragers or cleaners, while others are nurses or guards.
  • Honeybees do a waggle dance to tell other bees where the best sources of nectar are.
  • All bees have five eyes – two big eyes on either side of their head and three smaller eyes on top.

Have you noticed any bees out and about yet? One of our Nature's Calendar species that we ask people to especially look out for is the red-tailed bumblebee queen – a big bee with a black, round, hairy body and an orange-red tail. The Nature’s Calendar survey helps us learn more about how climate change is affecting the natural world, so why not get spotting and reporting?

Tell us your favourite bee fact

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